“I know our former president has said I had the right to overturn the election, but Donald Trump is wrong,” former Vice President Mike Pence said. | Steven Senne/AP Photo
KEENE, N.H. — Mike Pence is declining to call on Donald Trump to drop out of the presidential race if, as expected, the former president is indicted next week.
Instead, Pence said on Thursday, the decision is Trump’s to make.
“Look, it’s a free country. Everybody can make their own decisions,” Trump’s former No. 2 told reporters in New Hampshire, before turning back to his own 2024 ruminations.
The pass from Pence comes as he ramps up criticism of his former boss on other matters. And it suggests that Trump’s major competitors in the 2024 GOP presidential primary will try to steer clear of his mounting legal problems.
But Pence kept up the harsher criticism of Trump’s actions on Jan. 6, 2021, that he delivered at the recent Gridiron dinner in Washington, in which he said history would hold the former president “accountable” for the riot.
Trump lashed out at the assertion during a campaign event in Iowa earlier this week and sought to shift blame for Jan. 6 onto Pence. But Pence parried back on Thursday in New Hampshire.
“I know our former president has said I had the right to overturn the election, but Donald Trump is wrong,” Pence said. “I had no right to overturn the election. The presidency belongs to the American people, and the American people alone.”
He also continued to push back against another potential rival, Gov. Ron DeSantis of Florida, for calling Russia’s invasion of Ukraine a “territorial dispute” — though he didn’t use his name.
“Let me be very clear: The Russian invasion is not a territorial dispute. It was an act of unprovoked aggression against a sovereign nation. And it must be met with American strength,” Pence said. But, he added to applause, “we should not send service members into harm’s way in Ukraine.”
Pence’s appearance at the Cheshire County Republican dinner marked his first trip this year back to the first-in-the-nation GOP primary state.